PolitiFact’s Lie of the Year: ‘A government takeover of health care’
In the spring of 2009, a Republican strategist settled on a brilliant and powerful attack line for President Barack Obama’s ambitious plan to overhaul America’s health insurance system. Frank Luntz, a consultant famous for his phraseology, urged GOP leaders to call it a “government takeover.”
“Takeovers are like coups,” Luntz wrote in a 28-page memo. “They both lead to dictators and a loss of freedom.”
The line stuck. By the time the health care bill was headed toward passage in early 2010, Obama and congressional Democrats had sanded down their program, dropping the “public option” concept that was derided as too much government intrusion. The law passed in March, with new regulations, but no government-run plan.
But as Republicans smelled serious opportunity in the midterm elections, they didn’t let facts get in the way of a great punchline. And few in the press challenged their frequent assertion that under Obama, the government was going to take over the health care industry.
PolitiFact editors and reporters have chosen “government takeover of health care” as the 2010 Lie of the Year. Uttered by dozens of politicians and pundits, it played an important role in shaping public opinion about the health care plan and was a significant factor in the Democrats’ shellacking in the November elections….
And indeed, it’s tough to think of a bigger lie recently propagated than the idea of the lame, tepid, timid health care bill that Dems crammed through over Repubs’ kicking and screaming was anything in the same universe as a government takeover of anything.
If only it were. That is, if only it were a takeover, not of “health care,” but of the mechanism for paying for it. A few minutes ago on the radio, I heard ol’ Henry McMaster rumbling in that distinctive old-Columbia drawl of his about that mean awful nasty mandate, and again found myself wondering how he or anyone can even begin to imagine that we could address health care expense in any meaningful way without a mandate of some kind. Not THIS mandate, but a real one — a mandate for all of us to be in the same system, the same risk pool. Nothing else would really work.
I experienced actual gummint-run health care when I was a kid, because my Dad was in the Navy. Navy doctors, Navy hospitals. And let me tell you something: It was great. My Dad devoted his career to his country, frequently (at sea, and in the Rung Sat Special Zone of Vietnam with the river patrol boats) putting his life on the line. And in return, my family’s health care was taken care of. Made all the sense in the world to me. Way I see it, we should all pay into the system one way or another — for most of us, through taxes or premiums or whatever you choose to call them — and then everybody’s in the pool and we achieve maximum economies of scale.
But essentially, even that wouldn’t be a gummint-run health-care system, but a government-run (actually, I don’t care who runs it, as long as we’re all in it and nobody’s adding cost by building profit into the transaction, and the way you usually accomplish that is with a public approach) medical insurance program.
But we never even considered THAT. No one dared, from the beginning of the debate, breathe the two words that should have been nonnegotiable — “single payer.” Which is idiotic. No, we started with a premise far short of that, and negotiated farther and farther away from it until we ended up with something that bore no resemblance to anything even within that universe.
And still, people like Joe Wilson went around saying “government takeover of health care” as if the words coming out of their mouths bore some relationship to reality.
Talk about a big lie. Yeah, you lie, Joe. Whether you understand that you’re doing that or not. Even if you believe it, which you most likely do.
But I find myself wondering — when he said it, did anyone actually believe it? I mean, besides Joe? I find that hard to fathom, if anyone did…